Long Island is historically known for stretches of farms and vast sky that seems to dip down and touch the island’s surrounding waters. With farmland under threat of decline, Satur Farms in Cutchogue, New York, remains a beacon of sustainable hope. Paulette Satur and her husband, Eberhard Müller, co-founder and opening chef of Clean Plates-rated Le Bernardin, are committed to sustainable farming with a three-pronged approach benefiting laborer, purveyor, and plot.
Their initial intention was growing produce for Eberhard’s restaurant. “We started out with a garden plot, but things have a way of morphing,” Ms. Satur laughs. Soon, her husband’s colleagues were inquiring about how to get their hands on the outstanding produce for their own establishments. “Some of our earliest clients included Tom Colicchio of Craft and The Four Seasons,” she says.
Sustainability has been the core mission of Satur Farms since day one. “Our first intent was to make the soils healthy, because we knew that would give us the best product. We took land that was old and tired, maybe it had been over-farmed and over-cropped, and we coddled it and mineralized it. We’d look at our soil test results like a report card,” Ms. Satur says. When she started farming on Long Island in 1998, there wasn’t much interest in sustainability or organic and locally grown produce.
“At that time, there was no locally grown food movement. Distributors were accustomed to making a phone call and having produce shipped from the West Coast. In our first few years, we attended so many auctions of large farms going out of business. Six hundred acre potato farms, tractor equipment dealers — and it kept on going. There are very good growers here, and the climate is wonderful; it was such a sorry situation to see it on the decline. I kept thinking: if we grow it well, people will notice and they’ll pay attention,” she says.
Fast forward more than a decade.
To meet growing customer demands, “We started doing retail as well, because it was no fun for diners to see Satur Farms spinach on the menu but not be able to get it themselves. We started with Fresh Direct and love that you can click on their website and go to a locally grown page. We went on to include The Food Emporium, Whole Foods Market and distributors like Baldor Specialty Foods.”
Satur Farms has expanded to employ approximately 60 people and keeps land in Florida as part of their sustainability plan to provide year-round work and wages when Long Island’s growing season ends. Ms. Satur says of her staff, “They have to make money all year round. They have rents and mortgages to pay. We can’t just say, ‘See you in six months.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
While Paulette and Eberhard hold their ground working at least 14 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure the survival of at least one Long Island farm, what of the profession’s future? “The average age of farmers across the country is quite high,” Ms. Satur says. “There are a few [apprenticeship] programs — one in particular through The Peconic Land Trust.”
Given the increase in public awareness around sustainable agriculture since Satur Farms began, the public service campaign-turned-adage The More You Know could very well be suited for a tagline: The More You Grow. That’s not such a stretch, is it?
Images courtesy of Satur Farms.